Last summer, I made a vow to myself and my friend Jewel. I was going to curb my dependency on Seamless and get back into the habit of cooking. The plan was to stock up on groceries, experiment with meals and experience the alleged adult joy of making my own nourishment through the beautiful and complicated alchemy of cooking.
I thus began a routine of hoarding recipes from Epicurious, Food Network and the like, and for a few weeks, it worked. I made everything by hand miraculously, had leftovers and saved money. Eventually—as usual with my cooking phases—I got bored with peppercorn tuna steaks and slipped back into my takeout addiction.
According to people who cook, cooking has its benefits: you know what’s in the food, it’s supposedly a fun experience, and (in theory) spending half your life standing on grocery lines behind old people who use 10 coupons for one can of Spaghetti saves you money.
Counterpoint: Food is good. It can be consumed in various ways. Takeout is one of them and it’s fine if you’re addicted to it, as long as you’re not a crazy person.
I know how to cook, but I am not a cook. Remembering recipes is a nuisance, and I’m too impatient to let meat marinate. I’m a patron of food delivery. I’ve both acknowledged and accepted my vice. You should, too, if the thought of cooking everyday, buying ingredients and sifting through recipes sounds anxiety inducing. Stop telling yourself you’ll do better. Forget what the experts say, and use whichever food delivery app your hunger pangs crave.
Someone should’ve informed us sooner that while it’s completely noble to want to spend our money wisely on groceries instead, that’s not always what makes us happy.
My food delivery habit has been as much a result of poor time management as it is convenience, an inclination I’m sure many New Yorkers and other city-dwellers share. Cooking is not fun. Whenever a date asks if I like to cook, I’ll say, “Sure,” which really means, “Sure, I like the idea of it.”
I used to bake a lot. But my Brooklyn kitchen now is roughly the size of two elevators that barely fits a fridge, and the oven door only opens three-fourths of the way before hitting the fridge. I have to strategically tilt baking pans at a 45-degree angle to get anything in there.
This on-again, off-again relationship with cooking means sometimes I’ll make dishes like red quinoa and black bean burgers and take pictures as proof that I accomplished something.
But this was a wrap once I found a local restaurant on Seamless that makes black bean burgers.
At first, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of calculating my monthly Seamless abuse. In reality, the numbers were much worse in my head.
Here’s a screenshot of some of my Seamless orders in gMail. It may seem a tad excessive:
Really, I’m not that bad. In December, I spent $177 on Seamless deliveries. In January, it was $162. In February, an egregious $221. In March, I managed only $105 before going back up to $161 (April) and $126 (May). That puts my average at around $160 a month, which I’ll round up to $2,000 a year.
That doesn’t look as pathetic on paper as I’d imagined, considering there’s a woman out there who spent $11,000 on Seamless in one year. This December 2014 article also features a man named Jason Saltzman who averaged $1,800 a month and a woman named Enovia Bedford, whose total hit $800 a month.
Those numbers are ridiculous. I’m not that bad. You’re not that bad.
A few people spend ridiculously exorbitant amounts on Seamless. Most of us use it generously. Still, I needed confirmation of my pro-delivery sanity. I reached out to someone who’s smarter about money, Andrea Woroch, a consumer saving expert, and gave her that $2,000/year stat.
“The average American spends over $2,000 on takeout and restaurant meals,” she says. “So that’s an okay number as long as you’re not throwing groceries away because you’re going to Seamless.”
For the record, this isn’t a straight endorsement for Seamless the company. They make enough money on their own without cosigns, although their overzealous Twitter account surely eats it up when people profess their love. (Though they haven’t been getting a ton of love recently, what with their new redesign.) But this isn’t about them. Plenty of other delivery apps exist, like GrubHub and Caviar (haven’t tried it) and Just Call The Restaurant Directly. I use whatever’s accessible.
The real issue, more than the total cost, is the dependency—that my dining tally could potentially balloon to living-outside-your-means conditions when factoring in weekend brunches, dates and random dinners and drinks with friends. According to a 2015 Zagat survey, New Yorkers spent $48.15 dining out in 2014, which is $8.75 above the national average.
I budget wisely enough, but do I (you) have a “problem”? I fully expected Woroch to scold me on this point.
“I used to say always cook, brown bag your lunch, and buy groceries,” she says. “But the problem you run into if you’re single, or it’s just you and a spouse, is that you might be more social, have events and be going out on dates, so it’s harder to cook.”
Her advice: “Instead of ordering when you’re starving and getting appetizers on top of a meal, try cutting it down,” says Woroch. “It’s better to reduce your addiction to Seamless and learn how to supplement it with meals. If you use Seamless five times, try to lower it to three for a few months and see how you do. It’s also important to track your spending. If you’re spending more than the average, then you have a bad habit of depending on it. Don’t let it overtake your budget.”
Adding to that practical advice that some people already know but need to hear, rather than obsess over whether to cook more, embrace your freedom to outsource your dining experience. Embrace the joy and convenience of takeout, if you have that luxury. Don’t not cook. Don’t never cook. Just don’t feel bad when you don’t feel like it. Because pressing that “Place Your Order” button can be just as fun as watching dough rise.
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Illustration by Tara Jacoby